…and other tales of food and wine. November 2015
On the night of 13th November I was sitting with my sons in a Paris bistro, having dinner. It was 9 pm. I had just flown into Paris that morning from Bangalore en route to Reykjavik, and was meeting up with them in the 11th arrondissment’s Bistrot Paul Bert. A traditional Paris bistro of some note, now serving more American tourists than French locals, as we discovered. The food flavours were robust, though something short of remarkable – I’m spoilt in Paris, I’m afraid. The wine too, was decent though not quite stellar. The highlight of the meal was the dessert: a melt-in-your-mouth Grand Marnier soufflé. Then we stepped out, walking down the narrow lanes to the metro station.
That night the three of us had a close miss, as barely a few hundred yards away, in several restaurants just like the one we were at, innocent diners were gunned down by terrorists in a horrific display of savagery, possibly at almost the very
moment I was spooning the soufflé into my mouth. Later, as news trickled in, I was shocked and shaken at our near miss. I had two more days in Paris and I was determined to step out, wine and dine as planned, in support of the very Parisian lifestyle which had come under attack.
Our options were limited, I discovered the next day. My favourite bar à vins and restaurant Frenchie, was unreachable, so the next night we visited Michelin 3-star chef Yannick (formerly of Le Meurice) Alléno’s casual modern eatery, Terroir Parisien near the Sorbonne. I wanted familiar French food and wine, a tiny reassurance that life was not forever changed. The minimal-chic bistro was full of diners, a reassuring sight, the long central bar lined with wines and champagne and jars of quality teas and jams for patrons to buy. I ordered a glass of champagne and a terrine de foie, sel et poivre from the abbreviated menu which features among other things, Alléno’s version of veau-chaud (A Parisian ‘hot dog’ made from tête de veau), hambourgeois (hamburger), sandwich jambon-beurre (ham & butter sandwich) besides French bistro specialties like croque monsieur, saumon fumé (smoked salmon) and boudin noir (black pudding). For my main course, a filet de boeuf, sauce béarnaise, paired well with a house Crozes-Hermitage, Guer-Van 2013 that Alléno makes in collaboration with big-name Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier. And finished with a poire de
chez Surgis au vin rouge. Balance of life was slowly being restored.
Then it was off to Iceland, a happy, simple yet stunningly beautiful country and a memorable visit with friends. Lots of wining and dining here to, but that’s for another story. On my way back, I stopped for a night in Paris again, anxious to find life returning to normal. It was, though in truth, I doubt the people of the city will ever feel normal again. In celebration of this, we had booked dinner at Chef Daniel Rose’s Spring. Here was a true example of how France, its food and culture can deeply impact those in search of simplicity and quality.
Daniel Rose is a young American chef who adopted Paris as his home when he came there to study. He went on to be inspired by several great French chefs, including Alain Sailhac
and Yannick Alléno. He opened Spring, then in a tiny space with only 16 seats in 2006, shopping daily for fresh produce, cooking and serving himself. As he grew famous over time he moved to larger premises. Larger being a relative word – the new Spring is still quite small. With an unpretentious open kitchen in the middle of the room where you watch the chefs cook and plate your food as you sip wine recommended by their award-winning young sommelier Jonathan Bauer-Monneret (Meilleur Sommelier de France 2014). Rose’s philosophy is all new-French – fresh quality produce, minimum fuss and handling, artful simplicity which lets ingredients shine through. There are no menus here – you have the 5 course menu du jour based on what’s good in the market on the day, and the only concessions made are for possible food allergies. You might dine on scallops, or equally end up with sweetbreads or venison.
We arrived a few minutes early at the restaurant, and were buzzed in. Yes, buzzed in. Spring is almost nondescript and quite unobtrusive, located in a small side alley in the 1st – use GPS, I advise you. The décor is unfussy and minimal. Attitude is everything: the staff knows their job. We decided to surrender to the sommelier and opt for his wine pairings with the 6 course menu. This always adds a frisson of excitement –a little something to look forward to.
Champagne to begin with – a grower’s blanc de blanc with a surprising weight and complexity which balanced off perfectly with the small bowl of light vegetable broth which came after the amuse-bouche, with chunks of fresh steamed haddock and drizzled with chive oil. A perfect match for the cool wet weather. Then the raw scallops ceviche with
green apple and knobs of caviar, almost stark in its simplicity, with a Premier Cru Chablis 2009 ‘La Forest’ by Vincent Dauvissat.
Then an interesting course: autumn fish ‘soup’ with red mullet, trumpet mushroom and squash with a white Chateauneuf du Pape 2013 from Domaine du Grand Tinel, which makes 1000 cases of this Grenache-dominated wine. I just loved this one. White Chateauneuf is so often ignored in the shadow of the region’s reds, but ever since tasting an absolute masterpiece during a visit to Beaucastel, I am greedy to try more at any opportunity.
Then it was on to the mains. Filet of hare, smoked beetroot pomegranate, hare jus, with a lusciously rich salad on the side made of confit of hare with foie gras and greens. Stunning. This was served with Domaine Hauvette 2009 Cornaline Rouge, a biodynamic wine from a small producer in St Remy de Provence. By now the sommelier, smiling at my appreciation of his selections was generously pouring seconds of the wines. This was a winner.
We had to skip the cheese course, sadly. We could not miss the dessert du jour -so intriguing and so French. Served in three parts – the knobs of clementine and its sorbet were accompanied by a swirled mousse of goat’s cheese drizzled with raspberry coulis and a deliciously gooey chocolate-caramel tart on the side. This was served with a precious Consolation Antic 1985 Rivesaltes Ambre from Rousillon, a gorgeous luscious rare dessert wine made of Grenache, Muscat and Macabeu which stood up beautifully to both the sweet and the tartness. The pairings were just singing in perfect unison.
Enfin, when it seemed just that little too much, came the canelé de Bordeaux, with the espresso. Sleep be damned, I needed this.
The night before I left, a Sunday night when few eateries were open, I stepped alone into a small neighbourhood café and treated myself to escargots à la Bourguignonne with a glass of Chablis. Ah, Paris.
Terroir Parisien, 20 Rue Saint-Victor, 75005. Tel: +33 1 44 31 54 54
Spring, 6 Rue Bailleul, 75001. Tel: +33 1 45 96 05 72